We had so much fun talking about Infinite Dendrogram Volume 1 that we had to dive in again with Volume 2! Things are getting serious too, so this is a great volume to read if you really want to get an idea of what this VRMMO story is all about. Join TWWK and me as we take a look at the next adventure of Ray and Nemesis…
TWWK: As good as volume one was, I didn’t expect volume two to be this great—it really felt like the beginning of fulfillment of the potential laid out in volume one. The depth and complexity of the story began to be explored, and I felt like the author’s storytelling improved, too.
I was particularly impressed by how exciting the raid on the kidnappers was and how this quest and the introduction of Hugo helped to explore how and why this “game” in meaningful to Ray, and to us as readers.
stardf29: Yeah, this is definitely the volume where things get serious in many ways, as we see how playing the game affects Ray, for better or for worse. Since you brought him up, let’s talk about Hugo a bit. He’s a notable character in many ways, being both another Maiden owner and someone who belongs to the “enemy” (Dryfe), though he does help Ray for this sidequest. He’s a very interesting character in this way, and he goes to show that the people on the “enemy” side can in fact be more than just “enemies”.
TWWK: Hugo is an example of why I think the writing in this series has been so sharp—originally portrayed as a comedic character, he not only gets what I thought was the most exciting scene in the volume, but he’s used to deepen the theme involving the maiden players AND seems to be integral to the plot as an enemy. I loved all the layers here!
But his characterization made me consider something that does bother me—I still don’t really have a beat on Nemesis. I don’t have a strong feel for her personality and I have no idea what her role is. Is Nemesis a love interest? If so…kinda weird. And if not…then what is she? And because she’s just kind of there—really only a bit more than an object (she is a weapon after all), I don’t think the author earned the bonding feelings that he tried to pull out between Ray and Nemesis in the last portion of the volume.
stardf29: The question of what role Nemesis plays brings up a bigger question for me: what exactly are Maidens supposed to be? We now know that they appear for those who do not see Infinite Dendrogram as “just a game”, so how does that play into their human-like (and as far as we know, female) forms? In-universe, what are their roles to their respective Masters supposed to be? I think this mystery, and how it applies to Nemesis, is more interesting than the actual Ray and Nemesis relationship currently portrayed.
There’s definitely the possibility of Maidens being love interests; if they appear for those who don’t see ID as “just a game”, then that would only make it more likely that a given person with an attraction toward females would actually fall in love with a Maiden. I doubt that possibility has been overlooked by the “developers”, so… is it something they actually are going for, for some reason?
I should note, though, that given that Maidens are known to be almost all female, it’s not like Maidens have to be love interests; whether because their Master is female or not attracted to women or maybe they just don’t see their Maiden in that way; still, there does feel like there’s supposed to be some kind of close, genuine connection between a Master and a Maiden.
TWWK: That would be another surprise for me, albeit a pleasant one, of Nemesis is NOT meant to be some sort of love interest. We’re so trained to expect that from anime and anime-related properties, but if her role has more more depth than that, if she’s meant to express something about Ray and players like him, then that’s far more interesting.
On another note, man, I really liked the action in this volume. I continue to have the issue of not totally understanding the game dynamics since I’m just not a gamer—that makes parts of the novel inaccessible for me, but the author was still able to develop this sense of foreboding and then adrenaline and awesomeness during the fights. I was totally in.
In fact, the action scenes and much of the volume as a while reminded me of a favorite of mine: Game of Thrones. There was a real sense of evil lurking in these episodes, and danger as well, that recalls almost any episode of that series. And like the book series on which it’s based, this volume shifted points of view, which can be a nifty tool in leading the reader to differing perspectives if employed properly, which it was on these instances.
stardf29: I had kind of the opposite approach to the action scenes in that I generally find them hard to follow in written form, but the game aspects make things easier for me to follow. I do agree that the scripting of these action scenes is very good, and that makes me very excited for when they get adapted into anime form.
One of the more unusual parts of the book was Ray’s dream sequence, where we see some of Ray’s past, particularly involving Shu. It’s a very interesting look at how Ray became who he is, and also gives us a look at the kind of person his brother was.
Also, it’s interesting to see the boss monster that Ray defeated in the last volume actually interact with him in that scene.
And speaking of Shu, it was mentioned in the Vol. 1 discussion that Shu might have some particular reason to hide his real-life appearance in the game, and I think from this part I get the sense that he definitely has a big enough of a real-life presence that hiding his appearance would be a good idea…
TWWK: Ohhh, interesting…I hadn’t though much about Shu and who he is, besides knowing that something big is being hidden.
But that’s perhaps what I like best so far in this novel series—it’s well thought out. Well-crafted. I appreciate the planning that has gone into it, and the author has already built up such trust in me that I’m confident that later volumes will deliver on the promise of this one.
I’m also excited about exploring this idea of the game and the tians being “real.” It was thrilling for me to hear the enemies’ points of view, which were that of living, viable characters. Suddenly, their thoughts have so much more depth with the added layers of being game characters and then having this real quality to them. The stakes are not only higher for Ray and others of his type, but for me as the reader as well. And perhaps that, as much as anything, will keep me coming back for more.
Deep Dive: No Longer Just A Game
stardf29: This makes for a good transition into the deep dive topic this time around. I want to look at the whole idea of the game of Infinite Dendrogram being “real”, both in the perception of Ray and others with Maidens, and in the design of the “game” itself. How does the “realness” of the game possibly hurt Ray and others? How might it help them? How real do you think you would see the game if you were playing it?
TWWK: It must be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting for Ray to play the game the way he does. I liken it to this: there are times in my life where people I care about are hurting, and those are typically not good days for me. Ray is seeing suffering to “people” he cares about in a world where the action and violence seems real. How stressful and discouraging must that be?
At the same time, we fight for those we care about. When I play games and I’m absorbed somewhat into that world, I care about the characters and want to fight for them. But if it feels 100% purely a game, like Super Smash Brothers, I don’t care that Mario got knocked into a pit. It’s not real and I have no connection. But if I did, like Ray does, I would fight tooth and nail for those people. I would force myself to become a better gamer.
I think if I did play the game in the realistic setting, and with the tians and embryos as real as they are, I would buy in to the realness of the game; I might struggle in separating game from reality.
stardf29: I’m gonna be honest: it was hard for me to get through that opening part depicting how those children were treated. I’m pretty sensitive to that stuff, and I actually had to force myself to think of them not just as fictional characters, but as “fiction within fiction”al characters (not sure how I can really put that).
I think it goes to show, though, what it feels like for Ray to be attached to these game characters as if they were real people, so it’s easier to sympathize with him.
TWWK: That was a tough scene, and unexpected. Violence to children is hard for me to watch, in any sense, in fiction (I was reminded of a particularly controversial episode of Fate/zero). But I also think it really helped to establish what the series is going for, in giving that further meaning to Ray’s character and to raise the stakes for the reader, though like you, I’m kind of “all in” already I’m considering the characters I’m reading about as real.
stardf29: Another reason this topic interests me is that video games are normally considered a form of escapism, to get away from reality in some way. Playing a game that feels that real feels like it would go against that, at least on the surface. Then again, maybe there is something valuable in being able to live a second reality like Infinite Dendrogram where one may actually have the power to do things he/she wants to do in real life but cannot. It seems like that is ultimately what drives Ray at the end; he knows he will experience many unpleasant things but he also knows he has the power to potentially change things for the better.
TWWK: Well said.
stardf29: It’s an interesting challenge to the notion that escapism is only about avoiding reality; it can be used instead to experience a different reality than we’re normally able to, and process that in various ways.
In that way, I think if I were to play Infinite Dendrogram, I’d probably go out of my way to create a character very different from myself, and play things from a different perspective.
Though I probably would try not to get too wrapped into seeing things as real. I’d definitely set the visuals to anime-like; realistic visuals aren’t my thing.
TWWK: That’s a really interesting choice that the players make at the beginning, and says a lot about how you want to experience the world, if not also about the player him or herself. I used to participate in a lot of roleplay boards where writers basically collaborate to make a story together. I would often start out like you, trying something different, but it always hard to fight the urge to create a fully realized version of myself or someone I would admire. That leads me to think that I might go with realistic to more fully experience a reality I want, rather than one I might more enjoy.
stardf29: So as a final question, now that there’s evidence that a player’s type of Embryo is influenced by their personality, what kind of Embryo do you think you would have? For the record, the explained Embryo types are:
– Arms: Courageous, not afraid of getting hurt, hot-blooded
– Guardian: Afraid of getting hurt, lonely, want someone to protect them
– Castle: Introverted, cooperative, have an artisan’s temperament
– Territory: Want control, hoard their stress, lone wolves
(Chariot: no common personalities known)
– Maiden: View the game as “real”; hybrid with another type
Based on those descriptors I’d definitely see myself with a Castle-type Embryo.
TWWK: I want to have the Maiden type, but as I was reading the descriptions as given in the light novel, I kind of cringed because I feel a little Guardian and a little Castle, for better or worse. If I had to choose one, I’m like you—I’d probably have a Castle-type Embryo.
stardf29: Theoretically, nothing’s stopping anyone from having a Maiden/Castle hybrid. And, of course, in-story no one gets to actually pick; for all I know I could boot up the game and find myself with an Arms-type that unveils my hidden aggressive side or something…
TWWK: The power of this game: it helps you more fully realize yourself!
You can buy the digital e-book for Infinite Dendrogram from J-Novel Club here. You can also preorder the physical paperbacks of Vol. 1 and 2 on Amazon, which will be officially released in September 2019.